Niagara Falls, second-largest waterfall in the world, is one of the most unique tourist destinations in North America. Mostly this is because it’s simply a stunning natural occurrence – far and away the most striking waterfall (or more accurately, cluster of waterfalls) on the continent. But the area is also unique because it straddles the Canada-United States border, more specifically between Ontario and New York.
As a quick note on this fact – that Niagara Falls straddles a border – you should come to the area prepared to have to cross back and forth for certain attractions, some of which I’ll discuss below. This guide can help you with the documentation (basically it’s a good idea to have your passport or another valid I.D. handy), and there are specific resources you can check for wait times. Generally speaking however, border crossing is not a major issue at Niagara Falls. Now – on to the visit details!
Before I ever got the chance to visit, I was under the impression that Niagara Falls was essentially a sightseeing opportunity. Don’t get me wrong – I still wanted to see the falls in person. But movies and postcards had always made it seem as if seeing was about all there was to it. I’d go, snap a few pictures, take a ride on the famous boat that Jim Carrey got drenched on in Bruce Almighty, and be on my way. But as I discovered along the way, there’s a little bit more to a proper Niagara Falls visit than that (even if photo ops and the Maid of the Mist boat ride are among the highlights!).
First and foremost you’ll have to choose a place to stay if you’re not just passing through on a day trip. I liked Sheraton On The Falls, perhaps the main hotel on the Ontario side, just across the Rainbow Bridge (yes, that’s really what it’s called) from the main access points. The hotel overlooks the river with sensational views of the Falls, and rooms are reasonably priced for a luxury venue at an international destination. At least one review credits this hotel with providing the Falls’ best views, and I certainly wouldn’t argue.
The Maid of the Mist should probably be at the top of your activities list, even if it’s the most “touristy” attraction around the Falls. In fact, tourists have been enjoying this boat ride for 175+ years, as its first steam-powered predecessor opened in 1846! It’s the only chance to get up close from the water, and while you will get splashed, you’ll have fun doing it. There’s something about approaching the Falls from the water that makes them more impressive with each passing minute, and I found that to be one of the more impactful aspects of the entire vacation experience.
The ride on the Maid of the Mist was enough for a day for me in terms of outdoor, Falls-related activity went. But as you’ll no doubt discover in researching the area, there are some indoor attractions as well.
I balanced day one’s boat ride with a hot shower and a walk to Casino Niagara (which is just down the road from the Sheraton, also on the Ontario side). You don’t really have to be a casino gamer to appreciate the venue; as someone else wrote, it’s as much a tourist destination as it is a place to play. There are restaurants, gaming floors, comedy shows, and places to watch sports. I made do with a visit to Lucky’s Steakhouse (recommended) and did a little bit of light gaming.
On day two I made more of an effort to explore the area, and discovered what a lot of people who’ve visited will say, which is that there’s just more to do in the area than is commonly advertised.
I started the day off with the “White Water Walk,” which is basically a boardwalk over rapids (where apparently the water rushes by at an average of 22 miles per hour). It’s the closest you can come to walking on the Falls, and gives you great, up-close views from an entirely different vantage point than that which you enjoy from the Maid of the Mist. In a way, it might be the most intimate way to enjoy the actual natural wonder of the Falls.
I spent most of the rest of the time wandering around the area a little bit, which is non-specific but which I’d still recommend. Yes it’s a little bit touristy, but there are some charming spots to see and everyone is in a good mood. I did make it into the aquarium briefly because it got a little bit overcast and I’d heard good things. It’s on the U.S. side, but it’s still worth popping into if you have an hour or two to spare – particularly if you’re traveling with kids.
That more or less sums up a proper (in my mind) visit to Niagara Falls: some time for tourist attractions, some time for wandering, and a few minor indulgences in between. If there’s one thing I wish I’d done it’s probably the “journey behind the Falls,” another way of experiencing the Falls themselves up close. But I still feel like I viewed them from just about every angle, and kept myself entertained for a few memorable days.
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About the Photo
Linda Aksomitis took this photo of the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls from a helicopter tour.
About the Author
Robert Gurley, guest blogger, contributed this post. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, email [email protected]
All photos below are by Linda Aksomitis